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Wikipedia and Anonymity

A story in Wired reveals that Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has been editing his own Wikipedia entry:

Public edit logs reveal that Wales has changed his own Wikipedia bio 18 times, deleting phrases describing former Wikipedia employee Larry Sanger as a co-founder of the site.

The changes were reported Monday by technology writer Rogers Cadenhead on his blog, Workbench, spurring Sanger to launch a dialogue on Wikipedia about revisionist history.

In an interview with Wired News, Wales acknowledged he’s made changes to his bio, but said the edits were made to correct factual errors and provide a more rounded version of events.

While he said that Wikipedia generally frowns on people editing entries about themselves, there is no hard and fast rule against it.

“People shouldn’t do it, including me,” he said. “I wish I hadn’t done it. It’s in poor taste…. People have a lot of information about themselves but staying objective is difficult. That’s the trade-off in editing entries about yourself…. If you see a blatant error or misconception about yourself, you really want to set it straight.”

According to technology writer Cadenhead, who ferreted out the record of changes, Wales has altered sentences that gave Larry Sanger credit for co-founding Wikipedia seven times.

Recently, Adam Curry got shamed across the blogosphere for editing part of an entry pertaining to himself [link no longer available].

Should people be editing or creating entries for themselves in Wikipedia?

On the one hand, people’s self-interest might prevent them from editing objectively. People also might use Wikipedia as a kind of vanity press of sorts, creating entries about themselves filled with praise. I’m actually surprised that there isn’t more of this going on, as it can be quite flattering to have an entry for oneself or one’s organization in Wikipedia.

One the other hand, who knows better about Jimmy Wales than Jimmy Wales? If the people actually involved in various entries are shamed into not being able to edit them, we lose a valuable source of information.

Originally Posted at Concurring Opinions

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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics. Professor Solove also posts at his blog at LinkedIn. His blog has more than 1 million followers.

Professor Solove is the organizer, along with Paul Schwartz, of the Privacy + Security Forum and International Privacy + Security Forum, annual events designed for seasoned professionals.

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